Nepali Diplomacy A Kind Of Its Own

Madhavji Shrestha


Diplomacy, as practised in Nepal, has been making a journey in its own way. Until now, we do not know with what magnitude and dynamics it has been moving ahead and which trajectory it has been guided to travel. No practical study has been made so far despite Nepal’s opening to the external world after the great political change in 1951.

The general populace of Nepal takes the profession of diplomacy as an elite job, and its practitioners, especially ambassadors, as the persons responsible for bringing benefits and security to Nepal by dealing with governments and leaders of foreign countries. But their conjectures and expectations hardly touch upon the reality of the situation and circumstance relative to Nepali diplomacy and its practice, leave alone the knowledge of the general populace of Nepal on this crucial matter. Not even the decision makers and political leaders have paid any attention to the real need for successful diplomatic conduct.

As is well known worldwide, the diplomatic profession demands a higher mind, subtler sensitivity and cooler judgment from the diplomatic practitioners, in particular ambassadors, to successfully conduct the diplomatic duties and functions. It requires a refined personality with a quick mind to understand the complexity of modern day diplomacy. It needs a natural inclination to keep counter- partners in constant touch with an amicable and attractive behaviour and attitude.

It invariably demands intellect, tact and skill of diplomatic dimension. All these virtues come from experience, an analytical mind, incisive knowledge, dexterity and the like.

Everyone agrees that diplomatic capability is an invaluable national asset in the current situation of a complexity-ridden and conflict-torn world. Immensely considered so, Nepal needs very talented and capable diplomats to promote its national interest and to enhance its image to a greater height as well as to make Nepal walk a very delicate and sensitive track, especially in its relations with the two big neighbours and other influential powers. No friction and stringency should come in the way to a well-balanced relationship with them. However, Nepal has not produced well-known and successful diplomats of good standing even after the de-saddling of the highly authoritarian Panchayat politics.

The current global and regional situation demands the political leadership and government to produce efficient and capable diplomats. A close look at the past practices of conducting diplomacy and appointing ambassadors and envoys is required to give a new dimension and direction.

During the time of Rana rule, the Rana prime ministers appointed ambassadors to neighbouring India and the United Kingdom their close and trusted relatives, not considering their personality and ability as thought necessary to discharge their duties. Similarly, the erstwhile Panchayat system pursued a policy and practice of appointing ambassadors of its own choice without paying any heed to the essential qualities to work as national representatives abroad to serve the national interest.

With the change of the political system after dethroning the Panchayat oligarchy, people expected a far better polity and well marshaled diplomacy, but the expectations of the people were dashed to pieces. No tangible improvement has been seen in the conduct of diplomacy and diplomatic practice. The party or parties in power have made it a habit of selecting and appointing their close supporters and cadres as ambassadors to plum postings with no regard paid to the internationally accepted norms of diplomatic affairs. Time, money and energy have been wasted. No debate is necessary to foresee the loss the society and country have experienced as a result.

Note we must that political appointment itself or non-career diplomatic placement is not an unnecessary practice. Some of the powerful countries are used to such practice, but they do so by perusing the well-lubricated system of appointing ambassadors with care and caution given to selecting persons of good worth.

It is very pertinent to mention here the diplomatic practices followed by some globally influential countries. Great Britain, France and Germany and other advanced countries made it a usual practice of appointing ambassadors and other diplomats from among the persons working in the Foreign Service.

This writer, while working as a senior diplomat of Nepal in Bonn in 1989, unmistakably noticed the strong voice of discontent when the Federal Government of Germany appointed Philipp Jenniger, a former president of the Bundestag (lower house of parliament), as a non-career ambassador to Austria.

We can mention here the practice followed by India. At present, the Government of India maintains about twelve dozen full-fledged diplomatic missions abroad. However, the government appoints only about 8 per cent of the ambassadors from among non-career candidates. It has followed the practices of the advanced countries of West Europe with some exception. It selects non-career ambassadors with an eye on appointing the right person to the right place of diplomatic consideration.

The United States has followed the practice of a mixed-appointment system. Undoubtedly, the U.S. government appoints majority of the ambassadors from the diplomatic service career. Meanwhile, it has also adopted the practice of appointing non-career persons as ambassadors.

A recent report has it that the junior Bush administration appointed 34 per cent of ambassadors from among non-career persons. The Obama administration in the last seven and half years has appointed 35 per cent ambassadors from among non-career persons. But it should be noted that the U.S. government pays meticulous attention to the ability and worth of non-career persons in question. If not selected properly and carefully, how can the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approve the appointees of the government?

Notwithstanding the minute care given to non-career appointment, a commentator once said, “Amateur diplomacy is the American method,” pointing to the U.S. system’s usual practice.

The importance attached to the professional career service is vividly highlighted by the former prime minister of Israel, Yitzak Rabin, when he said to one of the outgoing ambassadors of the US in his farewell meeting: “Tell Washington to send us another professional – one who can report accurately and objectively our views and who is informed on and can articulate Washington’s concerns.” Such a remark would certainly highlight the process of attaching importance to the professional career of diplomacy.

The most recent decisions made by the Government of Nepal shows that one-third of the candidates were appointed from the professional career service while two-thirds were selected from among the cadres and supporters of the political parties in power. Two appointments from the non-career service have already been endorsed for diplomatically sensitive capitals, New Delhi and Beijing.

While announcing ambassadorial appointments, serious thought needs to be given to examining the candidates’ suitability to and ability to work in the various capitals of the world in their cultures and political environments. Other countries with a mature and institutionalised diplomatic process pay a great deal of attention to such requirements.

Higher education, proven knowledge, experience and professional skills count significantly in carrying out successful diplomatic businesses. Unless timely attention is given to these elements, a genre of polyphyletic diplomacy would emerge in the diplomatic practice of Nepal, which will bring adverse ramifications in its external relations instead of achieving the set goals of national interest. Will such a process serve the country and its people? Soul searching is immediately needed to give a good try for putting in place a well-set system that serves the well-meaning purposes of the country.

(Shrestha is a former joint secretary at the Foreign Ministry)



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